Scaffolding Students


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Supporting students is not a simple task. If your college is anything like the ones at which I have served, you have a multitude of initiatives on campus supporting students.

Knowledge of which students need which supports, and when they need those supports, would be a great way to ensure every student has access to the support they need, when they need it. Unfortunately, it is has been difficult to know what intervention – or inspiration – each student needs, and it has been difficult to know exactly when they need the outreach. Fortunately, predictive modeling affords a more nuanced and focused perspective on student engagement and risk, and let’s us be more precise in our efforts to support every student’s journey.

Scaffolded Student Support

When I think about student support on campus, I like to envision the analogy of scaffolding. Think of every student support initiative on your campus as a stage of scaffolding. Scaffolding is used to support either a structure, or those working on the structure. Scaffolding is deployed for a specific purpose to accomplish a focused task. And when that task is complete and the scaffolding is no longer needed, it is removed.

If our students are the structure in the analogy, and student support initiatives are the scaffolding, it is easy to begin to see how student support mechanisms throughout a student’s career can be deployed, scaled, and brought down throughout the student’s time in college. Sometimes the scaffolding is meant to directly bolster structural integrity, while other times it provides a platform from which a professional can do his or her work alongside the ‘structure’.

Some students require multiple layers of scaffolding for extended periods of time in college – they struggle at first to find a major, struggle to meet the rigor and pace of college study, need focused attention to bolster their study skills, or require tutoring to keep pace. Other students do not struggle early in their college career, but find difficulty in more senior courses that require more theoretical skills or require more advanced and detailed academic writing. Still others may not struggle, but may need the inspiration to take their talent to the next level be it in projects, portfolios, or academic research and writing. Supports for all these situations take different forms and are deployed at specific points along each student’s time at the institution.

white board of scaffoldingactivities

As a former university vice president, I can attest that some students require a myriad of supports for the majority of their time in college.

Whether they needed interventions or inspiration, or frequently both, our students have the ability to learn well and finish strong, meeting and exceeding their academic aspirations. And while it is up to the institution to provide the appropriate support, the responsibility of learning rests on the student.

Revisiting the scaffold analogy, if I am responsible for ensuring the efficacy of a structure, I may strategically deploy scaffolding to check on the repair requirements of the structure before bringing in the equipment to make the repair. Analysis of the structure leads me to a better understanding of the need for repair and the scope of the needs. Similarly for students, we use our on-the-ground professional personnel to identify specific student needs or supports.

Predictive Analytics Platform and Apps Identify Risk

Our Civitas Learning partners have access to robust predictive analytic platforms that allows them the opportunity to best identify which students need scaffolding and where. Our Student Insights Engine™ and core app Illume help identify when to offer support. This makes the most of the available data so that partners can direct the right kind of resources and scaffolding to the right students at the right time. Each deployment of resource and support, or intervention outreach, can be laser-focused because the identification of risk or engagement, and the level of it, is informed by analysis of student data.

Most institutions have a storehouse of scaffolding at the ready to deploy for students who are at risk. It is not uncommon that students require multiple scaffolds at one time, or numerous pieces of scaffolding throughout their student career. Fortunately, making a mere guess about a student’s risk is no longer left to conjecture. Predictive modeling can help better focus support initiatives, and the robust learning layer built by Civitas Learning can identify the efficacy of specific student supports to determine the effect of such interventions on student persistence. This proves beneficial to both the student and the institution.

Deploying scaffolding can now be timely, and provide students the kinds of support they need when they need it most, which also allows for non-essential scaffolding to be used elsewhere.

Celebrating Successful Completion

Whenever a great construction or restoration project is complete, all the scaffolding is brought down from the structure. Everyone is finally afforded the opportunity to celebrate the project’s completion, and see the fully finished structure.

In the case of our students, successful program completion means our students received the support they needed to complete their certifications or degrees, and we can all celebrate that achievement with them as they receives valuable college or university credentials.

Top Banner Photo: Scaffold Tower by Stephen Boisvert used by permission CreativeCommons BY- 2.0.

Dr. Eric McIntosh

Eric McIntosh is the research director for Civitas Learning. With a professional background in student affairs, he has worked for institutions of varying types and sizes understanding the intersection of students’ academic journeys and lives. An active researcher, Eric’s research interests include access issues in higher education, spirituality in higher education, transfer student integration, student thriving, and student success. Since 2007, Eric has been involved in research on student thriving; a research initiative of the Doctoral Programs in Higher Education at Azusa Pacific University.

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